My Great Journey Part 2
Please note that I hope to update this blog weekly. Part 3 is already written and will go up next Friday, the 11th, and I'm already at work on Part 4. That being said, I can't promise weekly updates, but please check back... Thanks/Rona
Impact on my Jewish Identity
In this second post on my transition to becoming Rona, I am exploring only issues in Jewish practice and tradition.
As with any classical religion, issues of gender identity are varied and divisive in Judaism. One can read many items in Torah (the Five Books of Moses) and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) as a whole and find support for gender identities outside of the standard binary (male-female) existences.
Genesis states that when God created humans, they were created male AND female. The classic understanding of this is a binary state – male OR female, but that’s not the correct reading of the Hebrew. Even the Midrash (a classic rabbinic commentary) states that humanity was created androgynous (the term used today is Intersex). Rather, the understanding to gain here is that humanity was created on a gender spectrum.
A very important text for those who are of other than binary gender is found in the book of Isaiah: (Chapter 56: 3-5)
Do not let the son of the stranger, who has joined himself to the Lord, speak, saying, The Lord has completely separated me from his people; nor let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus says the Lord to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name better than sons and of daughters; I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.
The prophet is promising, here, that people of non-standard gender who follow Torah will have a name in Israel, even if they are unable to have children. This gives great hope to many who are religiously engaged and are transgender or other LGBTQ people.
Ultimately, for engaged Jews, halakha, or Jewish Law, becomes a huge factor. Rabbinic writings are rife with examples of alternative gender. Classical Judaism understood something that most modern people do not regarding gender identity. The rabbis of the Talmud identified six unique gender identities. Please see http://www.transtorah.org/PDFs/Classical_Jewish_Terms_for_Gender_Diversity.pdf for a complete discussion of them. We now recognize that gender identity is not a binary state or set of discrete states, but rather a position along a spectrum or spectra of identity traits. Gender identity is as broad and varied as is the population of the planet.
Coming out as a Transgender person obviously has many sociological impacts. In Judaism, this can result in being shunned or even excommunicated by certain communities, although others are much more open and accepting. The links below provide insights into the issues surrounding the halakha of Jewish transgender identity.
They explore the classical sources, and the writings of modern rabbis such as the Tzitz Eliezer¸ Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg of Blessed Memory, of the Rabbinic Court in Israel. Rabbi Waldenberg determined that a transgender person who has had Gender Confirmation Surgery should be considered their correct gender in accordance with halakha. While he did not permit this transition from the beginning, after the fact, he determined this to be the case. This is in variance with the standard view that the chromosome 46 markers (XX female or XY male) are determinative.
The Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic organization of the Conservative Movement has also written a Teshuva, or Responsum, on this issue, and they reached the same conclusion as the Tzitz Eliezer, that transgender people who have had Gender Confirmation Surgery should be considered their correct gender in accordance with Halakha. In their Teshuva, though, they note that social norms should be considered as well.
In many states in the United States, when a transgender person begins their journey, and starts living in their correct gender (long before surgery is an option), they are able to get their names and legal genders changed in accordance with local law. This enables new driver’s licenses and other identification papers such as passports, changes with Social Security, the Veterans’ Administration, the military and schools, and ultimately changes in the birth certificate (I should note that most states require confirmation surgery before reissuing the birth certificate).
So the rabbis of the Rabbinical Assembly ask, if the state considers a person to be legally of their correct gender, shouldn’t we? Many Conservative rabbis and congregations are very friendly and supportive of transgender issues among their communities. More progressive communities are also supportive. Of note, the Union of Reform Judaism, in its recent biennial, issued a proclamation of open support for transgender people.
Of the transgender rabbis currently out, many were ordained from Hebrew Union College (The Reform Movement). There are others from Boston Hebrew College, The Academy for Jewish Religion (my seminary) and from other sources of ordination. I am connected with around 10 such rabbis. http://www.transtorah.org/whoweare.html gives an introduction to some of them, and the Jewish Week ran a series on six transgender rabbis in 2013 (http://forward.com/news/180303/first-generation-of-transgender-rabbis-claims-plac/).
For detailed discussions of the halakha, or Jewish law, of transgender Jews, please see the following pages.
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